Ibrahim, a line manager in the Indonesian branch of a global manufacturing company, had recently taken over a high performing team. He expressed concern that the motivation in the team seemed to have been dropping since he joined them and was looking for ways to engage them better and bring them back up to the previous level of productivity. Whilst the company had a global context each individual country operated as a semi autonomous system with the belief that local talent should always be advanced to senior positions. Ibrahim was keen to prove his ability to eventually take up a more senior role but his inability to motivate his team was a serious block for him.
Ibrahim was working with Moosh, an older experienced gelding and they had been getting along well when Ibrahim was asked to lead him with a rope, Moosh following placidly at the end of the rope. To take the experiment up a notch, Ibrahim was asked to engage with Moosh from the heart and lead him without the rope. They started out well but Ibrahim looked back after every step to check Moosh was still there and Moosh gradually got slower and slower and further behind, eventually stopping. One of the observers explained to Ibrahim that each time he looked back he was blocking Moosh with his energy and that he should walk confidently forward, trusting Moosh to follow. This he did and strode out with purpose with Moosh following behind until Ibrahim stopped on hearing his fellow participant’s laughter. He looked back to see Moosh had wandered off at the last corner and was no longer following. Attempting the exercise for the third time as he approached the last corner he looked back at Moosh and called to him, getting his attention and he and Moosh proceeded to finish the course.
After his session Ibrahim was relating his experience to that with his team. He said he realised what he was doing was micromanaging everything they did. The more he checked on them, the more they slowed, the more he “interfered”. Asking questions, asking for progress reports in addition to the project milestones, generally making himself always visible. He realised the more he micromanaged the slower they were getting as they felt blocked and not trusted to get on with their jobs, jobs they had been doing and doing well for a lot longer than Ibrahim was their manager. On the other hand it was his job to lead, not to just to leave them alone. There would be times when they needed direction or to be reengaged. His challenge was to build his awareness so that he knows when to trust them to do their job and when he needs to step in and give the needed direction.